E. H. Carr pp 283-303 | Cite as

The Lessons of What is History?

  • Anders Stephanson


It is not for his monumental A History of Soviet Russia that E.H. Carr is best known today but for two less ambitious works. Thus no introductory course in international relations seems to be complete without The Twenty Years’ Crisis, often included to represent, dubiously, something called ‘classical realism’. Meanwhile, most historians in the Anglophone world and a substantial number elsewhere read What is History? (1961, henceforth WIH) as graduate students and probably go on to teach it to the next generation. Both works, in short, have become classics. The Twenty Years’ Crisis is a canonical text within a field that takes such things quite seriously. WIH, by contrast, is seen as a handy way to open up some basic questions about a discipline which lacks a proper canon and whose boundaries are notoriously diffuse.1


Civil Servant Canonical Text Ambitious Work Revolutionary Potential Historical Direction 


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  1. 2.
    Another example, as it happens also ‘realist’, is George F. Kennan’s short lecture book American Diplomacy, 1900–1950 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1951), written at breakneck speed but endlessly reissued.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (New York: Vintage, 1953 [written in the early 1940s]).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    I borrow the expression from Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York: Columbia, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    See Paul Hirst’s criticism of Carr’s appropriation, ‘Collingwood, Relativism and the Purposes of History’, in his Marxism and Historical Writing (London: Routledge, 1985).Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    E.H. Carr, The Soviet Impact on the Western World (London: Macmillan, 1947), p. vii.Google Scholar
  6. 55.
    E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Foundations of a Planned Economy, 1926–1929 (London: Macmillan, 1971) Vol. 2, p. ix.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Anders Stephanson

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